Principle 1: Welfare and well-being of the victim/survivor is paramount    

Welfare and well-being of the victim/survivor is the reason for provision of crisis support services [1]

  • Crisis support services work from the premise that the welfare and the well-being of the victim / survivor is the paramount concern
  • Services focus on the provision of informed choice, control, safety, dignity and physical emotional and social well-being for survivors
  • This involves direct support of the victim/survivor and systems advocacy in collaboration with them
  • This may also involve direct support of the family or other social circle of the survivors

Without that consideration (paramountcy of victim need) as a guiding principle, the issue of “good practice” is little more than a discussion about the desirable practices identified by different groups in order to achieve their own particular imperatives. [2]

Sexual violence is one of the causes of greatest harm in our society, with impacts ranging through life-long anxiety and social withdrawal, disabling levels of shame and self-blame, suicide, alcohol and drug use, drop in socio-economic status, teen pregnancy and parenting, relationship and sexual difficulties, family violence and involvement in crime.[3] These impacts spread out around individuals to weaken families and social safety.

Survivors of sexual violence can have high impacts immediately, and significant proportions of survivors might still be impacted months and years later. These impacts include:

Anxiety and fear, including “(a) fear of stimuli or items that were directly associated with the attack (e.g. a man’s penis, tough-looking people); (b) fears of rape consequences (e.g. going to court, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases); and (c) fears of future attack (e.g. being alone, being in a strange place, having people behind you). [4]

The majority of survivors meet symptomatic criteria for PTSD soon after a sexual assault, and significant numbers still meet such criteria months and years later.  Up to half of survivors develop a major depressive episode following sexual assault, with many survivors still reporting depression three years later.

Suicidal ideation following sexual assault has been reported for as many as 50% of survivors, with 19% having made a suicide attempt.

Several years after a sexual assault, half of one sample had difficulties in social functioning. This included a restricted social life and only going out with groups of friends; another study found that in the first year post-rape survivors showed impacts on economic, social, leisure and work functioning; and further studies have shown long-term impact in marital and family relationships. [5]

Negative community response can significantly elevate distress. [6] Victim blaming attitudes [7] and difficulties talking about sex and strong emotions means that victims/survivors can become isolated within their own relationships, families and communities. [8]

The legal system response to sexual violence can cause further harm to survivors [9] through conveying negative social attitudes, needing to prioritise rights of the alleged offender, and requiring the victim/survivor to do things at certain times which may well be at odds with their own healing needs. Following rape, victims/survivors can be further impacted by the ways that they are treated, to the degree that contact with medical and legal systems can lead victims/survivors to experience higher levels of post-traumatic stress. [10]

I knew that I could not survive it again.....My fear was that I’d actually have to kill myself, because I couldn’t go through it again. That was scary.
- Shelley [11]
The judicial process can and does re-victimize and re-traumatize victim/survivors. In most cases it is the victim/survivor’s credibility that is put on trial which diminishes the need to seek the truth. Sadly social attitudes, myths surrounding sexual violence, lack of physical evidence and defense lawyers’ theatrics in court play a huge part in a jury’s decision to either acquit or convict.
- Louise Nicholas (Survivor Advocate)

Support from family and friends can be beneficial. Such support has been related to ‘having someone to talk to’ and ‘being believed’. [12] This included receiving emotional support, being listened to, not being blamed, being encouraged to talk about the sexual assault and not being distracted by other things. [13]

Some responses from family, friends and significant others can be unhelpful. Specifically with regards to pressure to “get over it” (the sexual assault), [14] and suggestions that the survivor could have fought harder to prevent the crime. [15]

  1. A fundamental premise of the work of sexual assault support services is that we work for victims/survivors, to have their needs heard and met. The inclusion of survivor voices alongside provider knowledge and research in this project reflects this orientation and the collaborative spirit of its development.
  2. Mossman, E., Jordan, J., MacGibbon, L., Kingi, V., & Moore, L. (2009). Responding to adult survivors of sexual violence: A review of literature on good practice. Crime and Justice Research Centre. Report commissioned for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. p26.
  3. Wall, L., & Quadara, A. (2014). Acknowledging complexity in the impacts of sexual victimisation trauma. Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault. Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australian Government. Boyd, C. (2011). The impacts of sexual assault on women (ACSSA Response Sheet). Melbourne, Vic: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  4. Mossman, E., Jordan, J., MacGibbon, L., Kingi, V., & Moore, L. (2009). Responding to adult survivors of sexual violence: A review of literature on good practice. Crime and Justice Research Centre. Report commissioned for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. p31.
  5. Petrak, J. (2002). The psychological impact of sexual assault. In Petrak, J., & Hedge, B. (Eds). The trauma of sexual assault: Treatment, prevention and practice (pp.19-44). UK: Wiley.
  6. Classen, C., Palesh, O., & Aggarwal, R. (2005). Sexual revictimisation: A review of the empirical literature. Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 6(2), 103-129.
  7. Ullma, S., Najdowski, C., & Filipas, H. (2009). Child sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use: Predictors of revictimisation in adult sexual assault survivors. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 18, 367-385.
  8. Robertson, H. A., et al. (2016). Family violence and child sexual abuse among South Asians in the US. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health 18 (4), 921-927.
  9.  Campbell, R., Wasco, S., Ahrens, C., Sefl, T., & Barnes, H. (2001). Preventing the ‘second rape’: Rape survivors experiences with community service providers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 16(12), 1239-1259.
  10.  Campbell, R. (1998). The community response to rape: Victims’ experiences with the legal, medical and mental health systems. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 355- 379.
  11.  Jordan, J. (2008). Serial survivors: Women’s narratives of surviving rape. New South Wales: Federation Press. p.126
  12.  Campbell, R., Wasco, S., Ahrens, C., Sefl, T., & Barnes, H. (2001). Preventing the ‘second rape’: Rape survivors experiences with community service providers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16(12), 1239-1259.
  13.  Filipas, H., & Ullman, S.E. (2001). Social reactions to sexual assault victims from various support sources. Violence and Victims, 16, 673-692.
  14.  Kingi, V., Jordan, J., Moeke-Maxwell, T., & Fairburn-Dunlop, P. (2009). Responding to sexual violence: pathways to recovery. Wellington: Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
  15.  Baker, T., Skolnik, L., Davis, R., and Brickman, E. (1991). The social support of survivors of rape: The differences between rape survivors and survivors of other violent crimes and between husbands, boyfriends, and women friends. In A.Burgess (ed.) Rape and sexual assault III. New York: Garland Publishing. 

practice examples

  1. Crisis support workers will honour and create space for the survivor’s choices, even where this conflicts with the wishes of family, partner or police.

  2. Crisis support workers will work with family and friends to assist in the development of positive social support for survivors, for example, through teaching family members about rape myths.

  3. Crisis support workers work with which ever systems a survivor is involved with to facilitate “rape myth free” responses from those systems.

  4. Crisis support workers will provide advocacy, defined by the Australian National Standards of Practice Manual as:

Acting and working within systems and agencies on behalf of individuals to ensure that their rights are upheld and their needs met.  Advocacy can be proactive in terms of seeking out the full potential that a system may offer, as well as reactive in terms of working against the potential for systems and agencies to further traumatise victim/survivors. [16]  

This advocacy is not generic, but rather seeks the optimum service response for each survivor.

16.  Dean, C., Hardiman, A., & Draper, G. (1998).  National Standards of Practice Manual for Services Against Sexual Violence.  Melbourne: Centre Against Sexual Assault. p 49